By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
LINDSAY – Last week’s unanimous decision by the Lindsay City Council to accept proposals to manage the weekly Friday Night Market, has left the Lindsay Chamber’s existence in limbo.
Between March and November, the Lindsay Chamber hosts the Friday Night Market bringing between 3,000 and 5,000 people to downtown every week. Hauling in hundreds of thousands dollars per year the chamber agreed to sign a 2-year contract and pay the City $2,000 per week for street use starting March 1, 2017. But after falling $8,000 behind on payments in 2017, and then more than doubling that amount in 2018, the Council decided they wanted to hear out other organizations that would like to take on the market.
All options are on the table for the market if a new organization comes in, including relocating the entire market to a different venue.
During last week’s Jan. 22 meeting chamber proponents spoke out against the formal request for proposal (RFP). One of the most important attendants to lend his voice was Urbanist Collective’s executive director, Eric Gonzalez.
The Urbanist Collective, an arts organization in Visalia, aims to help enrich communities through large scale art projects. Gonzalez went on to say that the organization decided to forego other nearby Valley towns for their projects in favor of Lindsay, but most importantly because of their Friday Night Market that helps drive foot traffic past the art gallery.
“We could have picked any community we wanted but we picked Lindsay because of the market. So I am really sad to hear [the market might be moved] because that is going to affect our entire plan,” Gonzalez said.
Lindsay Chamber of Commerce executive director Virginia Loya says that it was a mistake to sign the contract and that the amount of money quickly became overwhelming. Loya admitted the chamber was at least a month behind on payments to begin with. Also built in the contract was a second year increase from $2,000 per week to $2,500 per week.
“That was a lot of money, we’re talking 8 to 10 thousand dollars a month,” Loya said.
By the end of 2017 the chamber was $8,000 behind on their payments. As a result, the City decided to forego the extra $500 per week in the second year and keep the weekly rate at $2,000. Despite the $500 break, by November 2018 the chamber’s deficit ballooned to $17,000. Even that figure is under scrutiny. Zigler says the chamber made their last payment to the City in August last year, bringing their deficit to $20,000. Neither Zigler or Loya were able to identify the $3,000 discrepancy.
Lindsay’s newest council member, Yolanda Flores, was floored by the weekly rate.
“Realistically, I don’t see that type of cost on the City side to charge that much. Another thing… I just don’t see it being right, requesting their profit and loss statements,” Flores said.
Zigler says the City had tried to help the chamber when they fell behind on payments and even went over portions of the accounting. Loya says the City is asserting the chamber has the available funds to pay, but Loya says they cannot. Neither side was able to discern the difference of opinion. Though Loya says that paying the City amounts to a significant portion of their profit.
“We had hoped this was going to be a positive revenue stream when we started,” Zigler said. “We’ve been working with them to try and square it away, and it hasn’t happened.”
Aside from the weekly rate, per the contract, the chamber also agreed to conduct an annual survey of downtown businesses to gather their thoughts about how the market is helping their business, how businesses think the market could improve and then report their findings to the Council. Loya said the last time they conducted a survey they had 47 businesses in favor of the market and 11 businesses say they did not want the market at all.
Loya says 2018 was a difficult year for the Friday Night Market. In the past, a good night would have 150 spaces rented, yielding between $15 to $125 per space depending on the type of business. Retail vendors typically rent the lowest for $15 and food vendors rent space as high as $125. But Loya says space rentals were down between 20 and 40 spaces on any given night.
As the main revenue generator, the dependability of the market can make or break the chamber as an organization. Loya said market revenue generates almost 85% of the chamber’s total revenue. Without it, the chamber wouldn’t exist. And while Zigler says she has not conveyed that to him, he nonetheless thinks it is true.
“I wouldn’t doubt it, I think it is their only revenue stream,” Zigler said.
Councilmember Laura Cortes, one of the members of the Ad Hoc Committee over Major City Events who recommended the City issue an RFP, says she personally recognizes the positive impact the market has on the community.
“On a personal note the market has had an impact not only on my life but on my family’s life…for those of you who do not know my father has a food tent out there,” Cortez said.
Ultimately though, Cortes says that it is best for the City to hear out other management through the RFP process, as the City still needs to make major repairs to the downtown plaza’s fountain and amphitheater.
The second council member of the ad hoc committee, Brian Watson, says those fixes will be over $100,000 in addition to the landscape repair and maintenance for which the City is also considering options.
“Probably the [repair] that is most notable is the Sierra Plaza fountain that no longer works because people were stealing and damaging parts,” Watson said. “There’s wear and tear on the grass that is there. Once the market starts there is no grass or very little grass. We’ve been talking for two years to put in hard scape there.”
Watson says that as a City they are not able to front these costs and relocating the market may be a better option.
Loya says moving the market out of downtown does not make sense. She noted that the downtown was specifically created to generate foot traffic. Each tree has an electrical box for vendors to use, and there were specific improvements made to the area to make it more attractive.
“It was built for the market to be here. I know they were talking about moving it to a different area but we need it for the businesses. They want it for front door exposure,” Loya said.
Despite some councilmember objections, mayor Pam Kimball said issuing an RFP is the most reasonable move since the chamber has fallen behind on their payments and breached their contract. She added that the chamber is welcome to introduce a proposal of their own making the argument why they should continue to run the Market. And Loya added that the chamber will be making a proposal moving forward.